Why hack days are important for innovation

January 14, 2016

Fostering innovation can be a challenging process. Digital services are quickly becoming instrumental to even the most traditional business, and young start-ups are moving in to disrupt industries across the world and Glasgow is no exception. Steven Kelly, digital designer at STV, rounds up the inaugural STV Hack Day hosted at RookieOven, and looks at the lessons learned from hosting a hack day…

Hack days

Every industry, from hotels to taxis, music to food is coming under attack from new companies that think they know better, looking to reinvent the wheel. With this in mind, how can a company with a well-established role and a clearly defined proposition adopt this attitude?

Maintaining existing services and keeping existing customers happy can be extremely challenging tasks themselves, so adding innovation in to this mix can be almost impossible.

Hack Days are a chance for a business to throw off constraints for a small period of time and ask ‘How can we?’ This can be all a group needs to unleash a bit of creativity and tackle a problem.

For the first ‘STV Hack Day’ we decided that to increase engagement with the rest of the business, we would let our colleagues throughout the business decide what problems were tackled on the day. A wide range of problems were submitted that our staff wanted to tackle, each gave a fascinating insight into the way STV staff consider their roles and our business as a whole.

We created teams based on what problems interested the participants, and what skillsets each problem needed. These cross-business teams were one of the highlights of the day. Watching people that had never even met before, bring all of their skills and experience together to tackle problems was brilliant to watch. If nothing else, the day was a success based on the connections people formed with other departments, and the mutual understanding that was gained of different roles within the business. For the business this has long term value, as with new connections comes new ideas and new solutions to old problems.

People are more creative outside the office.

Hosting the event off-site definitely adds to the message of ‘remove any constraints’. While logistically it becomes more challenging, it certainly helps people break out of the mould and think about things objectively. When people start the day with the same commute, they start with the same mentality, which is exactly what we wanted to avoid. It also meant participants couldn’t take an hour here or there for meetings or checking email, keeping everyone focused and engaged on the tasks at hand.

We were fortunate enough that a space was available for us to use in the Govan Shipyards Fairfield building. This building was once the hub of shipbuilding innovation in the western world and still remains an inspiring space today. Fairfield also hosts one of the hubs of the startup scene in Glasgow, RookieOven, and we were fortunate enough to use their area as well. Rookie Oven proves that not all start-ups need to be from ‘the valley’ and that Scotland can be as innovative as anywhere else in the world.

External speakers are always more exciting.

David Low, ‘Developer Advocate’ for Skyscanner, was able to make time to come and kick off the event with a great talk about how Skyscanner has disrupted an industry. He also demonstrated how influential Hack Days are within Skyscanner and how they help shape new products and features that are essential for the company.

Ordering good food is a must.

People appreciate good food. No matter if the rest of the day had been terrible, Social Bite made sure we ate well.

Ice breakers are good at breaking the ice (who’d have guessed).

Ice breakers tend to be the thing that people dread when they see them on an away day itinerary, but they do serve an important purpose. Quite simply, human beings perform better when they’re warmed up. Usain Bolt doesn’t show up at the track in his dressing gown, he spends plenty of time warming up first. Having people with such different skillsets that don’t ordinarily get the chance to work together, it was essential for us to have something to get people on their feet and chatting.

Great work can be done in two days.

All of the above helped contribute to a great two days for the STV Hack Day, but the main contribution was from the people that invested two days to solve problems for the company. We had some incredibly well thought-out and well executed ideas produced by the end of the two days, which was testament to the talent that exists within STV and the passion people have for the future of the business.

Going Forward

The event was a great success and based on the feedback we received from participants everyone enjoyed the chance to take part. From a business point of view, some of the ideas produced on the day will now be revisited in more depth as genuine business propositions.

Going forward we will need to ensure that as a company we continue to find time for innovation, and so continue to prove that even big companies can adapt to the changing times.

Steven Kelly is a digital designer at STV. For more information on working at STV visit http://www.stvplc.tv/careers, follow @WeareSTV on Twitter or STV Group plc on LinkedIn.